Technology at work on the mailbox outside JR Mizusawa Station:
It's actually a model of a radio telescope, presumably to recognize Mizusawa's status as host to one of the radio telescopes in the VERA
network. I prefer to think that Japan Post Service simply beams mail out of the box to wherever it needs to go.
How big do snowflakes get? I mean a single six-pointed lacy bit of ice, drifting down from the sky. When you see big snowflakes coming down, they're not just a single snowflake: each fluffy white "flake" is really a clump of small snowflakes and snowflake parts.
My morning walk with the dogs started with overcast skies, but no precipitation. A few minutes into it, a big snowflake fell near Moki. It seemed a little odd, as it was the only one. I wondered if it had fallen from a tree or something, but there was nothing near. Then a few seconds later, I saw another one. Gradually, more of them began to fall, but it was still an interesting combination of large but very sparse snowflakes.
Then, one landed on my coat where I could get a good look at it. It was one large, intact, snowflake, about half an inch across. A couple of smaller snowflakes (maybe an eighth of an inch) had stuck to it, but didn't hide or damage its delicate structure. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I spent the rest of the walk catching snowflakes to try to find another one — but all I could get were clumps of small snowflakes and snowflake parts jumbled together.
Losing My Mind (Among Other Things)
It's been a tough couple of weeks for relatively valuable items here at Let's Sharing HQ. Between last week's lost wallet and yesterday's lost car key, we've spent a goodly amount of time retracing our steps (fortunately, Kitakami isn't that big) and revisiting establishments in search of our missing items. And I've become quite proficient at filing lost item reports in Japanese, which is the bright side here. Isn't necessity the mother of language learning? I think I heard that somewhere.
Today's chapter in the lost key saga found me at a small key shop located inside a kitchen supply store, run by an old, weathered Tohoku-jin. Our conversation required patience on both sides: for him, because I need a fair amount of repetition, slow talking, and cognition time before I can understand something, and for me because he spoke with a thick accent and the low, mumbly speech frequently used by older northern Japanese men. And he had a boatload of customers coming in and out, including another guy with a thick accent and mumbly speech. They had a long conversation about something while I waited, drooling over the Japanese knives; for all I know, they were talking about the Amerika-jin with negligible language skills needing a hard-to-make key for a German car.
At any rate, we weren't able to work out a keymaking arrangement today, so he asked me to come back tomorrow. I can't make it, so I offered up Matthew as a substitute with the assurance that he speaks better Japanese than I do. In retrospect, I think I actually told him someone's dad would be coming. Oops.
Chusonji is a famous temple in Hiraizumi, about 40 minutes south of Kitakami by car or train. It is most famous for the large main hall and the opulent Konjikido (golden hall) covered in gold leaf and mother-of-pearl inlay.
Less well known are the dozens of smaller halls and shrines dotting the grounds. In many places, any horizontal surface has pebbles piled on it. The piling of stones seems to be a sort of prayer enhancement: you make your prayer, then stack stones up towards the heavens. The higher you can stack them, the better.
is a major historical attraction of Iwate, and the site of Chusonji, the first temple designated as a National Treasure of Japan. The temple is built on a forested hill, where occasional breaks in the trees offer views like this.
The border between Iwate and Akita runs along the central mountain ridge of Japan, with Iwate on the east and Akita on the west. Cold air from Siberia picks up moisture crossing the Sea of Japan, then socks Akita with deep "lake effect" snows. Iwate is protected by the mountain ridge, so it gets far less snow even though it's right next door.
One indicator of this difference is that on the Akita side, many houses' first floor windows and walls are protected by additional boards in winter. They are set against the houses to keep the snow from pushing directly on the walls and damaging them.
Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan, is in Akita Prefecture and not too far from the Iwate border. We remember it well from our 2006 visit
, and went to see it again last week. It's definitely the off-season — there was hardly anyone else there, and many of the shops and kiosks were closed — but the cold winter air and the snow made for a beautiful sight.
To: Matthew and Stefanie
From: Moki and Aki
Because we are Japanese dogs, we believe we should get to use the zabutons
. Aki wants the red one. She also wants the kotatsu
Also, Moki would prefer something a little larger.
Yesterday afternoon, Matthew and I ate lunch at our favorite takoyaki
joint and watched the news on Japanese television. At three o'clock, the news broke and a cheery woman at a piano, along with three young women wearing cute gray hoodies and boy shorts, appeared. The woman played the piano while the young women demonstrated a set of stretches, which they then put together as a short calisthenics routine. Nothing terribly taxing, just a bit of exercise, or radio taiso
, to get the blood moving after lunch.
I had heard about radio taiso
from my Japanese teacher in America. It apparently started as an effort by the Japanese government to keep people from being totally sedentary during the day, and continues on NHK. Some companies, like the concrete plant across the street from our house
, still do it in the mornings. It does sound like a good way to keep alert and well-stretched ¡½ provided you're not stuffing your face with okonomiyaki
at the time it comes on.
We finally had our big kerosene heater installed last week, much to Christina's (and our) relief. It's kind of a shame that a Tohoku winter vacation based out of Pension Let's Sharing will no longer have a full day of seeing your breath inside as an attraction. Then again, it's nice to be able to feel my hands during the day.
Here's our new best friend:
You can't read the placard on the front, but it is, appropriately, an "Excellent" heater.